As the capital recoils from another jihadist murder strike and the full range of emotions surge, it is helpful to keep a cool, strong grip on the difference between conspiracy theories and reality. That is part of the state of vigilant calm the police are asking Londoners to be in.
Let’s begin with nonsense claims made about the head of London-wide government, its mayor Sadiq Khan. Don’t waste your time trawling social media for evidence of seething weirdos holding him personally responsible for last night’s sickening atrocity on London Bridge and in adjacent Borough Market solely because he is a Muslim. I’ve held my nose and done that dirty job for you. This online community of cranks, which includes some of the establishment media’s most abject bottom-feeders, are in their element today. While the rest of us grieve, they can scarcely contain their delight at what’s occurred. They are part of the problem, the second worst bunch of people in the world.
It’s hard to tell if their gleeful misrepresentation of a comment Khan made last September in New York is down to nastiness or stupidity. When he said that contending with the threat of terror attacks is “part and parcel of living in a great global city”, he was not accepting defeat, as keyboard loudmouths like to claim, but acknowledging a truth that is common knowledge. London has been on high alert for terror attacks for years. This fact is public information. For Khan to pretend otherwise would be as ludicrous as had Winston Churchill told Londoners during the Blitz that the Luftwaffe did not exist.
But that’s as far as the comparison should go: neither the city nor the nation are under existential threat; a poisonous transnational ideology has gripped the minds of some in Britain who’ve taken it to its most vicious expression, but there is no fundamental conflict between Muslims and the rest except in the dangerous imaginations of assorted zealots. Fighting talk is cheap at times like this, especially from opportunists like Boris Johnson and among those, such as UKIP, on whom our democracy bestows great freedom to sound off despite the thankfully slim chance of their ever having to shoulder any serious responsibility.
By contrast, the aftermath of the Manchester bombing has revealed that Muslim Mancunians showed great responsibility by alerting the police to concerns about Salman Abedi. Would it be mistaken to assume that plenty of Muslim Londoners are as determined as their Mancunian counterparts to play an important role in defending their city against homicidal fanatics, by giving the security services useful information?
In the aftermath of this latest assault on the capital, with all its glorious liberties that fundamentalists so hate, it is easy to mock the ensuing mourning rituals and exhortations to stand together, as some were so eagerly doing within a couple of hours of last night’s horrors. But these are necessary mechanisms for dealing with human feeling and the sentiments expressed are right. Anger too, is appropriate, but must be channelled in the most effective ways.
The mayor has expressed his fury, and also praised the police and emergency services, which appear to have limited the terrible damage efficiently and courageously. He has rightly repeated his insistence that London will not be cowed. The prime minister has said “enough is enough”, though exactly what productive action from the former Home Secretary that might foreshadow, as opposed to “tough” rhetoric, is not yet clear.
For now, we might take comfort from a reported 18 terror plots in Britain having been foiled since 2013. But hundreds more are being investigated and it’s only ten weeks since the terror assault on Westminster Bridge. The growing worry is that street attacks on ordinary people using vehicles and knives, the planning of which is harder to detect, are becoming part of London normality. It won’t be easy to stop another one taking place. That’s why extremism in all its forms must be opposed with all the resources we have, the solidarity of Londoners included.