After the latest outbreak of Islamist terror in Britain, following the expressions of sorrow and sympathy there comes the commonplace injunction that such terrorism ‘must not be allowed to work’. And that above all, we must ensure that the putative motives of the terrorist must not be fulfilled. They must not be allowed to nurture suspicion towards the wider Islamic community that could shake the foundations of a highly developed liberal democracy, or at least make life in it intolerable for that social sub-group. No, they must not, and it is well-meaning to say so, but to say so seems to be missing the point.
This analysis involves, firstly, an over-estimation of both the goals, and the power of the individual terrorist. Consequently, it involves an under-estimation of the tolerance and liberalism inherent in British society. In the first place, the Islamist does not truly believe that his act, shocking and destructive though it is, will bring down the social fabric of the British state (after all, it is in part the pluralism and secularism in themselves which account for the ‘British-Muslim’ which he attacks).
In the second place, even if he did believe his act would be destructive to the British state, he would be categorically wrong. This is precisely because of the tolerant and overwhelmingly pacific nature of British civic life. Ironically, the fact that, collectively, we leap at once to the injunction ‘we must not be divided’ amply demonstrates that we are not the dividing type.
We would therefore do better to remind ourselves that instead, it is not the Islamist who is strong and Britain which is weak, but rather Britain which is strong and the Islamist who is weak: reduced to attacking the least defensible precisely because Britain herself is impregnable.
If the terrorist fails to achieve the goals we attribute to him however, we fail to realise that he achieves those which he sets for himself. That is, the murder of innocents and of innocence; the sado-masochism of murder/suicide. To cry then that terrorism must ‘not be allowed to work’ is impotent. It has already worked in the only way it really can.
We will not defeat Islamism, therefore, with exhortations not to turn on each other. To do so is to grant a possibility which the Islamist can barely grant in his wildest dreams. Moreover, it is to show a kind of self-doubt, which though for us is among the greatest of virtues, might for our enemies be a still greater source of exploitation.
We will defeat Islamism by preventing the futile acts of mass-murder which demonstrate its own weakness. To do so, we need not fear dividing from the wider Muslim community; we need only fear not embracing it closely enough while rooting out the cancer in it – (belatedly) self-diagnosed by Salman Abedi’s friends and his own Mosque in their reports to the police and the Home Office – and amongst us all.