Saturday 16 October 2021

Only the terrorist is guilty


Whenever there is a terrorist attack in somewhere like Israel, we are told by the BBC that it carried out by militants. It gives the impression that the far left from the 1980s stopped handing out newspapers to blow himself up. Only when a terrorist attack happens here in Britain will the BBC allow itself to describe it as such. IRA militants after all did not try to blow up Margaret Thatcher. If a word is useful then we must use it consistently. If something is terrorism call it terrorism, otherwise you are lying in which case how can you be trusted on anything.

But how do we respond to an incident of terrorism where an MP is stabbed by a British citizen who has been described as a Muslim from Somalia. Firstly, we must think about David Amess and his family and friends. Like every other victim of murder, he didn’t deserve to die. Whatever the motive of the murderer, it did not justify this loss of life.

A short while ago I wrote about how men in general were being condemned for the death of Sarah Everard. The slogan “End male violence” was being used to turn the particular actions of Wayne Couzens into an argument about how men in general were culpable. I argued that this was unjustified. Innocent men who had done nothing to harm anyone were no more to blame than anyone else. Well, the same logic applies in the present case.

It would be equally wrong to have a slogan “End Muslim violence”. Just as only a tiny proportion of men commit murder, so too a tiny proportion of Muslims or people from Somalia commit murder or are involved in terrorism. Muslims or Somalis who have never hurt anyone are no more to blame than anyone else. It is only individuals who commit acts of violence and only they who are guilty. Condemning the group for the actions of the individual is morally wrong.

British citizens must all be treated equally. We are all individuals with our own ideas about everything. There will be British Muslims whose family came from Somalia who are making great contributions to society with their work. They will hold a variety of political opinions and almost all of them will be living lives that harm no one else. We cannot make generalisations about them from the actions of one person.

But one hundred years ago, in Britain there was no problem whatsoever from individuals who were Islamic extremists. Again, let use words that describe a thing rather than hide behind words like “Islamist”. At the beginning of the First World War, you would have struggled to find someone living in Britain who favoured Jihad. Indeed, few British people would even have known what the word meant.

The BBC routinely condemns places like Poland for being less than welcoming to refugees. But the reason is that the Poles have seen what Britain is like and they prefer to keep their country like it was one hundred years ago. That way there is zero chance that a Polish MP will be killed by someone involved in Jihad.

The least that we in Britain can do is to control immigration in such a way that we have the best chance of not letting people come here who hate us, our way of life and are sympathetic to terrorism. The vast majority of migrants will be glad to be here. They will become British citizens who are proud to be British and who value and like our country, because it is their country too. But we can only find those who don’t share these views if we control who can come here rather than it being simply a matter of who can pay the trafficker to get them onto a rubber dinghy.

MPs have a difficult job that is statistically fairly dangerous. Politics is frequently passionate. Often, we massively dislike the views of our political opponents. Scottish independence would be a disaster for me. It would see my country break up. I can think of nothing worse that could happen politically. But I have nothing against Scottish nationalists personally. I don’t want anything bad to happen to any of them. They are my neighbours and people who I interact with in the shops and on the street. I hope Nicola Sturgeon fails politically, but I do not hope anything bad happens to her or her family. I don’t know her personally. Our disagreement is political. It is not personal.

We all have sometimes said things in anger about political opponents that are overly scornful and insulting. I believe in polite reasoned argument, but each of us on Twitter or in an article has said something that might personally wound an opponent. When an MP has just died for doing his job, it is worth reflecting that he was not scum. He was a human being, with a family, who was motivated by what he believed. You may disagree with his views, but don’t try to turn the person into something less than human.

If you believe that Tories are scum or vermin, then you must also think that the world would be a better place if there were none of them. If you don’t mean this then you are merely exaggerating. But if you insist that you really did mean that Tories are scum, then your expressions of regret at the death of a human being look rather insincere.

Tory is used by too many opponents as the worst insult possible. The implication is that Tories are immoral, evil and less virtuous than those of us who oppose them. This is to dehumanise political opponents in a way that is now dangerous.

We don’t know the full story, nor the motivations for the terrorist incident that killed David Amess. But if a future Jo Cox or David Amess is saved just once because we all cease to use language that suggests murder is a matter of pest control, then it would be worth us making the effort to do so.

So too I hope not one Muslim or person of Somali origin feels guilty because of language that suggests he is guilty for something that he didn’t do.