This was an act of Islamist terrorism – stop pretending otherwise

After the trial of David Amess’s killer, let’s stop talking about social media and start talking about Islamism.

Tom Slater

Tom Slater
Editor

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Topics Free Speech Identity Politics Politics UK

Ali Harbi Ali, the 26-year-old Islamist extremist who killed Tory MP David Amess in cold blood last October, has been found guilty of murder and preparing acts of terrorism. It took the jury just 18 minutes to decide his fate. The evidence was overwhelming. The jury heard that Ali stabbed the beloved Southend MP 20 times at his constituency surgery over his support for airstrikes in Syria. The London-born Ali became radicalised in 2014. He wanted to travel to Syria to join Islamic State between 2015 and 2017, but found it was ‘too difficult’. And so he decided to sate his appetite for Islamist barbarism here at home. After scoping out a few other potential targets – including Tory minister Michael Gove – he settled on Amess, who he said deserved to die because of his support for bombing ISIS as well as his membership of the Conservative Friends of Israel Group. Ali showed no remorse, telling the court: ‘If I thought I did anything wrong, I wouldn’t have done it.’ He will shortly be sentenced, and is expected to rot in jail.

So it’s official: the murder of Amess was an act of Islamist terror. The killer was motivated by a warped ideology that loathes democracy, freedom and Jews, and worships violence and death. Ali even told the jury that he hoped to be shot by police, so that he’d be ‘martyred’. (In the end, he was detained by two brave plainclothes cops, armed only with batons and spray.) The revelation that Ali was cleared by the anti-radicalisation Prevent scheme in 2015 appears all the more absurd in light of the details of this trial. ‘If to further my war I have to deceive, I will do that’, Ali boasted at one point. While effectively admitting to the killing, he lied his way through the trial anyway, denying that his crime was murder or that his intention was terrorism. According to the BBC, he refused to swear on the Koran, seemingly as it ‘allowed him the space to continue to lie and fantasise until the very end’.

We should consider these details for a moment. Not because this murderous scumbag is worth any more of our attention. But because the reality of what happened in Essex last October is now plain for all to see. And that wasn’t always the case. We at spiked have long criticised the tendency on the part of Western media elites to downplay Islamist terrorism. In the wake of jihadist attacks, the response is almost always depoliticised and tamped-down. We’re told to mourn the victims and move on, as if there’s been some awful, unavoidable natural disaster. Discussion is shushed for fear it will whip up a violent, Islamophobic backlash that never actually materialises. But the aftermath of David Amess’s murder was something else. Even though it was announced very early on in the investigation that the murder was being treated by police as a suspected Islamist terror attack, even though stories about Ali’s fondness for Islamist propagandists soon surfaced, the political and media classes seemed desperate to present this murder as something else entirely – as an act of senseless violence whipped up by the ‘coarseness’ of political debate.

Looking back now, it was surreal. There was constant talk of social media – as if Amess had been the victim of a nasty bit of trolling rather than a brutal knife attack. Tory MP Mark Francois, a close friend of Amess and no stranger to a ruthless rinsing on Twitter, proposed in parliament a ‘David’s Law’ to remove online anonymity. He talked of dragging Silicon Valley giants Jack Dorsey and Mark Zuckerberg into parliament, ‘so they can look us all in the eye and account for their actions or rather their inactions that make them even richer than they already are’. Labour frontbencher Alison McGovern pointed to ‘the social-media norms that have to change’. Meanwhile, an Observer editorial castigated those who dared to dwell on the fact that this appeared, based on the early evidence, to be an act of Islamist terror: ‘There will be those who seek to deploy these scant details in service of their political agendas; to politicise this tragedy in such a way is abhorrent.’

‘Scant details.’ How chilling those words read now. Confronted with an act of suspected political murder, we were told not to politicise it. Or if we were to politicise it, we should do so to the end of clamping down on free speech online – a long-running preoccupation of MPs and the media. All you had to do was contrast the demand that we generalise this murder, as one of many expressions of the ‘toxicity within public discourse’, with the response to the murder of Jo Cox MP by a far-right extremist in 2016 and you could see what was going on here. Cox’s killing, as Brendan O’Neill wrote on spiked last October, wasn’t just treated as an act of far-right terror – it was also shamefully used to bash the Brexit campaign, which was accused of whipping up a climate that somehow green-lit, or at least contributed to, Thomas Mair’s horrific act of violence. Five years later, Amess’s murder wasn’t even used to bash Islamism – the ideology suspected of inspiring it.

The double standards and the cowardice are breathtaking. As are the foul assumptions that motor them. The compulsion to depoliticise acts of Islamist terror and silence any discussion of them rests on a fear and loathing of ordinary people. Working-class white Brits are presumed to be one rolling-news discussion away from launching a pogrom. They are supposedly chomping at the bit to go after Muslims and are incapable of distinguishing between a religion (Islam) practised by millions of law-abiding Brits and a political ideology (Islamism) that has claimed dozens of British lives in recent years. Meanwhile, British Muslims are treated as lesser citizens, apparently incapable of discussing Islamist terrorism, even though it appals them as much as any other community.

Now that justice has been done for David Amess, it’s time our political and media classes finally grew up. Stop talking about Twitter and start talking about terrorism.

Tom Slater is editor of spiked. Follow him on Twitter: @Tom_Slater_

Picture by: Getty.

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