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Niall McCrae: The rights of a terror suspect do not trump the right to life


Okay, we know the routine. An ‘incident’ has occurred, possibly a road accident. Some Asian gentlemen crashed a van into pedestrians, shouting ‘Allahu Akhbar’. Bodies on the street, rivulets of blood – it’s probably terrorism-related. But we mustn’t jump to conclusions. Then ISIS claim responsibility. Shock, horror at another jihadist outrage. Deserved praise for the police and public Samaritans. Then the vigil, the pavement strewn with flowers and candles, and teddy bears marked ‘I love [latest location]’. A sense of ‘it could have been me’, and a communal pledge to carry on as before.

Straight-thinking politicians and commentators demand action, particularly when it transpires that the killers were on the security services’ radar. But soon the prevailing narrative resumes, and the twin bogeys of denial and displacement take over. The attack had nothing to do with Islam. ‘Hope not hate’ is the mantra, and the peddling of hatred is magically transferred from the perpetrators to the Daily Mail. Encouraged by the BBC and Guardian, so-called community leaders manipulate Muslims as the victims, with X per cent increase in Islamophobic abuse. A relatively minor transgression such as a muttered remark to a burka-clad woman trumps the anguish of families yet to bury loved ones blown apart by a nail bomb.

Anything tweeted by Donald Trump is ridiculed by the commentariat, but he was quite justified in drawing attention to the reckless comment by London mayor Sadiq Khan that terror is ‘part and parcel’ of living in a capital city. Khan’s immediate response to the Borough Market carnage was to insist that this ‘global city’ is the safest in the world. How casual this must seem to the bereaved, basically saying ‘sorry your daughter was killed, but please be assured that this is a very rare thing to happen’.

A popular view, pushed by Jeremy Corbyn, is that we’re to blame. But the jihadists go back much further than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Our index offence was in the twelfth century. Listen to the ISIS statement on the Manchester bombing: this was revenge on ‘Crusaders’. Their motive, in their own words, is hatred of infidels. That won’t change until we embrace their version of Islam.

After Manchester, I proposed internment of those who are likely to harm us. I was not alone: a petition on has amassed 237,000 signatories. Retired police chief Tarique Ghaffur thinks similarly. Then we heard that the number of would-be jihadists is as high as 23,000, far beyond the surveillance capacity of MI5. Comments were mostly supportive of my article, but it was useful to receive counterarguments. Mostly these focused on the principle of innocent unless proven guilty, seeing internment as a reversal of everything we stand for. But this one principle doesn’t override the higher law of a right to life. Somebody argued that 20 guilty men walking free is better than one innocent person incarcerated. I asked whether the liberty of a suspected terrorist should have primacy over the lives of twenty girls at a pop concert. I was then accused of being emotive.

According to the insufferably smug Sam Leith in his Evening Standard column, calling for internment makes me an ‘attention-seeking blowhard’. His 400 words of trivialising waffle cite the higher risk of being thrown from a horse, with the astonishing conclusion: ‘I’d like a world in which such attacks were noted, with sadness, in an italic paragraph at the foot of page 13’. Victims and grieving families – that how Sam values you.

Liberal caution is doing Muslims a disservice, because every incident reinforces perceptions of their creed as inherently dangerous. Let us not lazily assume that Muslims will oppose interventions to keep our country safe. We must start listening to moderate, mainstream voices in the large and heterogenous fellowship of Mohammed. On the same page as Leith, Maajid Nawaz, founder of Quilliam, issued much-needed clarification: –

Any politician who is unable to name the threat facing us does not deserve to be taken seriously. Islamism is the political ideology that seeks to impose Islam over society. Jihadism is its violent offshoot.

Isolate the extremists, Nawaz urges. They are not ‘despicable clowns’ as Leith thinks, but determined followers of a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam. Brainwashed perhaps, but don’t deny their agency.

Internment would be a small part of the fight against militant Islamists. Those who think that nobody can be detained without charge are mistaken. In my field, persons deemed dangerous to self or others can be ‘sectioned’ and placed in a secure unit until their condition improves. The Mental Health Act is applied through assessment and management of risk. Libertarians want detention abolished, but they are a tiny minority against the thousands of patients, nurses and doctors who know the daily realities of acute psychiatry. Why shouldn’t the cold-blooded jihadist be subjected to the controls imposed on a psychotically disturbed patient? (note liberal writers’ frequent references to the madness of terrorists). Opponents of internment are taking chances with other peoples’ lives.

There should also be the beginnings of an embarrassing conversation on holy scripture, and the concept of jihad. Unlike the Bible, the Koran is a book of instruction, and while most of the eloquent prose shows the path to virtue, there are also violent commands to slay the unbelievers and behead those who insult Allah or his messenger. These lines cannot be deleted, but I hope that British imams, scholars and ordinary Muslims will be at the reformatory vanguard, rejecting literal reading of deadly verse as incompatible with modern, civilised society.

De-radicalisation is a crucial component of the anti-terror strategy, and the Prevent scheme needs more investment. Nazir Afzal, the most prominent Muslim lawyer in Britain, argues that Islamist groups are thwarting Prevent, aided by liberal handwringing. Criticism is always permitted in a free society, but anyone deliberately obstructing this obviously necessary work should be confronted. Some call for renaming of Prevent due to stigma, and the same might be said for internment. But we should not be submerged in semantics and linguistic sensitivities.

As I write, there are thousands more monsters in our midst, waiting for their date with the devil. They don’t deserve your sympathy. As the Evening Standard editorial asserted: ‘they chose their path, we must choose ours’. We social conservatives must never feel bad about trying to protect our country and its citizens. Let the doubt and guilt fall on those who do nothing.

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