"But how can you live and have no story to tell?" Fyodor Dostoevsky
After Manchester and now London, I'm struggling to summons up the words that capture my feelings. Anger is there. Anger at the senseless violence against folks enjoying themselves. Pity and sadness also for the relatives of those killed and injured. Shame enters the mix. I feel helpless watching events unfold on TV. Shame that my response is noise in the echo chamber. Hovering in the background is a sense of disconnection from all the tributes, eulogies, candle burning and general hand-wringing.
What’s the point? Will it stop another attack? That disconnection arises from the UK's lack of honesty about the threats it faces from radical Islam. For too long, political correctness has held sway. Virtue signalling types shutting down difficult public discussions with their lazy claims of racism and Islamic phobia.
The rote reaction seen after the London attack demonstrates nothing has been learnt. The politicians posturing, whilst pointing the finger at each other. Teresa May slashed police numbers. When they raised a cry, she trashed them with accusations of scaremongering. On the other hand, can we trust Jeremy Corbyn? He has a track record of voting down measures to curtail terrorist groups. His expressed support for certain terrorists is on record. Not good is it.
For me, none of the politicians carries the necessary conviction to deal with the issue at hand. None is honest or brave enough to affirm that tough, across the board, measures are needed.
Let us be clear, no one is suggesting all Muslims are involved. Such a suggestion is plain daft. Yet, it is undisputed that some mosques in the UK are being used as centres for radicalisation. The moderate Muslims have been saying this for years, demanding action that has not been taken. There is emerging evidence that the security services failed to act on warnings regarding at least one of the attackers, Khuram Shazad Butt. He appeared in a 2016 Channel 4 documentary ‘The Jihadis Next Door’. He made no secret of his radical views. Moreover, he was repeatedly ejected from mosques for his activities.
I don’t wish to rush to judgement. It's unclear exactly what evidence the authorities had. Plus, whether resource constraints allowed a proper and full assessment of that evidence. That second point loops back to the strident cuts Theresa May imposed on the police. In particular, her slashing of budgets hit community-level policing and intelligence gathering. The very sort of activity that would have given a clear picture of the threat posed by Butt.
What is reassuring is that in the documentary, moderate Muslims repeatedly confronted Butt and his radical friends. These brave interventions give weight to the view that some in the Muslim community are seeking to tackle the radicals. More power to those people.
So, what can be done? Well, funding for the police needs to be adequate for the challenge faced. Reinstating neighbourhood policing teams to full manning levels would be a good start. That way intelligence and information can be fed into the system.
The police themselves need to change. They have to shake off the remnants of their ‘Dickson of Dock Green image. Every officer should be carrying a firearm. Yes, I know a good percentage of officers cannot accept that. Then, I would ask whether they are in a position to protect the public and themselves? That’s their sworn duty. One brave officer with a baton had a go in London. He was overcome. Imagine the outcome had that brave officer had a gun. People would be at home with their loved ones, not on a morgue table.
Soft policies weighed down by political correctness, need to go. People who express extremists views who are not UK citizens must be deported. No second chance or wobbling about their rights. UK citizens who express violent extremists views should be placed under strict control orders and curfews. Infringements of the conditions will mean detention.
Finally, the key to success lies with the Muslim community. A robust partnership with the security services to expose those who preach and encourage radical Islam is crucial. Their support base must be removed, the roots that nourish the violence ripped up and facilitators of hate exposed. Only then we truly can address the issue.
Walter De Havilland was one of the last of the colonial coppers. He served 35 years in the Royal Hong Kong Police and Hong Kong Police Force. He's long retired.