Events

Kenan Malik in the Guardian, ‘What  Khalid Masood wreaked on Westminster last week was depraved and shocking. It was not, however, another 7/7. The attacks on the tube and a bus by four suicide bombers on 7 July 2005 were relatively sophisticated; the bombers had been commissioned and trained by al-Qaida and their actions carefully choreographed. Wednesday’s attack was, in comparison, as crude and as low-tech as such attacks could be – a man causing mayhem armed simply with a car and a knife . . .

Isis has claimed responsibility for the Westminster attack, calling Masood one of its “soldiers” (though it did not name him). Whether Masood had any real links to Isis remains unclear. “Soldiers of the Islamic State” are often just unstable young men with only the most tenuous relationship to Isis but driven by a sense of inchoate, personal rage. Masood’s story, a petty criminal, lacking direction, but converting to Islam after finding in Salafism a sense of order and meaning, and of making sense of his inner furies, is not unusual among jihadis.

Deranged fury cloaked in ideological rage is not uniquely Islamist. Two days before Masood mowed down his victims on Westminster Bridge, James Harris Jackson allegedly stabbed to death Timothy Caughman in Manhattan. Jackson was white, Caughman black. Jackson is said to have come to New York from Baltimore armed with a knife and a sword and with the aim of killing as many black people as possible. “I hate blacks,” he allegedly told police. He chose to make New York the scene of his murderous act because it was “the media capital of the world” and he “wanted to make a statement”, investigators say. The police are uncertain whether Jackson had any formal links to racist groups. But, as with many Islamist killings, this stabbing blurs the line between ideological violence and psychotic rage. At his arraignment, the prosecutor called it “an act, most likely, of terrorism”. Defence counsel talked of Jackson’s “obvious psychological issues” . . .

The Khalid Masoods and James Harris Jacksons of this world may be few but they are proliferating – angry, unbalanced individuals, detached from wider society and its norms, denied political outlets for their disaffections and who find in Islamism or white nationalism the salve for their resentments and justification for their actions . . .

This raises questions about how the authorities, the media and the public should react to such events. The immediate response to the Masood attack – the courage of those who went to help the injured, the stoicism of Londoners carrying on as usual – was measured and inspiring. But the wall-to-wall media coverage and speculation that followed, and the high-publicity nationwide police operations, have had the effect of making a low-tech attack seem more like a major 7/7 kind of incident. The authorities need to gather information on perpetrators and ensure public safety. But what the past week has shown is the need to reset the balance between pursuing such aims and giving exaggerated weight to the attack. Otherwise the reaction to terror will itself provide the ‘statement’ that terrorists crave.’ click here.

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