Getting cleavered to death is a nasty way to go. It’s emotive and graphic. But it’s also very small scale. The country’s reaction to Drummer Lee Rigby’s murder on the streets of London has been completely overblown.
Most of the controversy among the media and politicians is about Home Secretary Theresa May’s proposals to revive legislation to increase police powers over hate groups (popularly called the snooper’s charter). This would include possible banning orders for extremist groups, even if they don’t explicitly encourage terrorism, and a crackdown on internet activity.
This is missing the point. Even if you prevent radical speech online, you can’t stop it in the privacy of people’s homes. At least online you can monitor it, whereas if you start banning online preaching, it’ll just go off the radar. Plus, two radicalised young men with cleavers cannot be stopped because they no longer have access to their favourite YouTube cleric. You have to detain them, which is a whole other slippery slope.
Banning speech has never really worked under any regime/government, whether 21st century Britain or 20th century communist Russia. The most radical will always find a way to talk, online or otherwise. I for one would like to know more about how young people become radicalised, harbouring so much hate. They’re usually mid twenties and male, for starters.
Instead of trying to control their behaviour, I would ask whether it is possible to expose them to a better influence. At schools, for example, do we teach enough about how somewhere between 750,000 and two million people marched against the Iraq war? When young radical men are arrested, does a judge/magistrate have an option to send them on an anti-radicalisation programme of some kind?
The two young men who murdered Drummer Rigby targeted a soldier, as if he is guilty of conducting a war against Islam in Iraq and Afghanistan. I find that ironic. British soldiers are are the few who don’t have a choice about who they fight. They follow orders from superior officers, who are ordered by politicians.
Then finally, to really drive home the point about how Britain is over-reacting to two deranged murderers, I want to point out that every year there are about 64 murders in the UK committed by someone suffering from mental health problems. Why do we not react with outrage? Because we recognise that often those murders are committed by people without full rational control of their actions. If radicalisation caused by another is the reason for young men committing horrific acts of violence, do they have full rational control of their actions?
If not, perhaps we should react to both the same way. I’m not saying we should forgive Drummer Rigby’s murderers. But I am saying that while home-grown terrorism is treated exclusively as a crime rather than a sickness, it’s going to keep happening. I agree with Theresa May that we need to prevent radicalisation. Where I disagree is that gagging clerics is the way to go about it.
Bottom line: by the time spying has to be considered, it’s too late.