There’s a real danger that our responses to terrorist incidents are giving the murderers behind them what they want.
Over the last three months, the UK has been hit by four terror attacks in Manchester and London. In the inevitable media frenzy, the repeated questions and statements were about how the perpetrator was radicalised, what are we going to do about the on-going problem and what the motivation behind the attack was.
News outlets to various degrees deal with these issues and with varying levels of sympathy or defence. Regrettably, they are nearly always to do with Islamic terrorism.
And the name is misleading, conflating religious extremism with religion, practised by hundreds of millions, with the behaviour of murderers.
So when a Caucasian male rammed into Muslims walking near Finsbury Park Mosque in London after prayers, the press and the public don’t know how to react and the incident was initially called a crime.
Whether we realise it or not, the reactions we give to incidents like this determine how successful terrorism really is.
‘Radical Islamists’ is a confusing term because it conflates religion with murder. To call the Finsbury Park suspect anything other than a terrorist is plain wrong, in the same way that Americans seldom label mass shooters as the work of Christian or white perpetrators. A terrorist is a terrorist, irrespective of their religion.
Political commentator Simon Jenkins makes the case that calling incidents like these terrorist incidents, and reacting to them as such, gives terrorists the attention they covet. It also attempts to divide the country by making the majority white population suspicious of its Muslim community.
Consider, too, how little we know or care about terrorist atrocities across the world. If something happens in London or Europe social media activates ‘safety’ buttons and support labels and everything else.
That’s because the violence is relatively close to home. Our knowledge and our sympathies are confined to a small part of the globe. Human beings have not overcome their line of sight, something moral philosopher Peter Singer argued in his essay ‘Famine, Affluence, and Morality.’
What we must be careful of, is letting this weakness be perverted – there will always be parts of life and society, like Islam, which we do not completely understand but ignorance cannot be substituted with blanket contempt.
Terrorism, or violence directed against innocents in any way, is despicable and reprehensible and is murder by a different name. Whatever your background, we’re all vulnerable to it.