I was in the Mall Gallery on Wednesday looking at some rather humdrum English landscapes and still life. It’s a pleasant place with a nice cafe just near Admiralty Arch, and I usually enjoy meeting friends there, but for once it wasn’t a good place to be. It’s also near Westminster. After about half an hour drifting about wondering why so few people can paint anymore, mayhem crashed in from outside.
Someone heard gunshots, I don’t think I would recognise them, and a security guard appeared in the doorway telling us to keep inside. People from the street rushed in to join us, for their own safety. We didn’t know it had been a police special squad shooting, so an unspoken thought came to us, clear on people’s faces, that there could be a jihadist outside or nearby.
A few of us, smiling and joking, went to look at the loos wondering if they might be a good place to hide if anyone came in with a machine gun. They weren’t. There was nowhere to go and for a time we couldn’t get out. Like people in offices all over Westminster, including the BBC reporter Laura Kuenssberg, we all had to sit tight. It was best to just forget about the risk looming outside on this spring day and go back to looking at the sentimental images and our mobiles.
I contacted the editor of the Salisbury Review as some of the editorial staff and readers were meeting at 6pm at the Athenaeum. He made a few jokes about my dying as a martyr for the magazine, and thereby putting the circulation up, then realised it was serious and decided that the social event had to be cancelled. Some people were on their way from Manchester and coming up from Devon. When all was deemed safe and they let us out again I made a dash for the bus home. I was worried they might start closing the tube lines and it wasn’t nice travelling on them, everyone was very tense.
Perhaps surprisingly, this was my first experience of a terrorist attack. In 2015, a total of two hundred and eleven completed, failed, or foiled terrorist attacks were reported by EU states, resulting in one hundred and fifty one fatalities (148 in France, 130 of them in the November 2015 Paris attacks.) Over three hundred and sixty people have been injured. To that we can now add twenty more, including French schoolchildren.
Last September, Sadiq Khan, London’s Mayor, pointed out in case we had missed it, that the threat of terrorist attacks are ‘part and parcel of living in a big city.’ He encouraged Londoners to be vigilant to combat dangers, without saying exactly how.
He revealed he’d had a bad night after previous bombings in New York, but opined usefully that the world ‘has got to be prepared for these sorts of things’ to happen when people least expect them.
So, Muslim culture has not yet been normalised in the UK, despite the best efforts of liberals and the Church of England with its all-enveloping ‘interfaith dialogue,’ but Islamic terrorism is now normal. I know older people who were children during the war. One of them told me yesterday, ‘People used to go home to find their houses were gone. But they just went to work the next day and carried on.’
After cooking a hearty breakfast on a primus stove in the rubble, no doubt. But when he says terror is part and parcel of daily life, something to be expected, I don’t think Khan is really talking about the famous British stiff upper lip. To my ears, his words speak of a required tacit silence about violence, an almost passive acceptance that we now have to have it, in the same way that people on the Left used to insist that a high crime rate was a price worth paying for social ‘freedom.’ We have to have terrorism in our cities because a proportion of Muslims here and abroad believe they are victims and want it.
The big difference between then and now, between Nazi aerial attacks, Irish bombs and one-off extremist nutters, is that with Muslim terrorism we are not supposed to oppose the enemy. Instead he is to be given understanding and as far as possible accommodated.
This was confirmed on the extended BBC News at 10 on Wednesday night when a high ranking member of the Met Police told the BBC that the force would, ‘Seek to reassure the Muslim community,’ after the suffering they had endured due to ‘right-wing extremism.’
What exactly this extremism amounted to, I don’t know. Perhaps the fiendish capitalist press has kept it away from me. Yesterday morning on the Today programme, Muslim leaders were criticising the police Prevent programme which aims to prevent youngsters being radicalised, like the home grown soldier for the Caliphate on Wednesday. It was obvious from their reaction to the police initiative that they want to police themselves, and will brook no interference from outside. Most Muslims in our cities live in impermeable ghettos and like it that way.
This was followed by the recantation of a popular liturgy from the day before. From Mrs May through Sadiq Kahn, Liam Fox who called for, ‘tolerance,’ and others, it was proclaimed that we will not let the terrorists, those unknown, deeply mysterious blokes who we cannot control, divide our ‘communities.’ That means of course, but is never said, Muslims from the rest of us.
England, the most densely populated part of the UK, as anyone knows who really lives in it (using state schools and healthcare, public transport rather than taxis or limousines) is already completely divided and Byzantine in its complexity. For centuries it has been divided by class. The castes rarely meet or intermarry and do not even converse happily if they can help it. Since the 1960s we have been increasingly divided by ethnicity, which can be related to class but is chiefly now about the protected belief system of the Muslims. No one lives together, no one can. Only politicians and clergypersons weave this disingenuous fantasy that things are otherwise.
Khan began again, spinning out further his fantasy of England and its people, telling us that most terrorists are not from any faith group. He added that, ‘We celebrate each other.’
He’d like it to be like that of course, most of us would. But for anything like that to happen Islam will have to reform itself and change its approach to living in the West, in western cities. We would also have to insist that they do this, or tell them to leave. What are the chances of that?