British Prime Minister Theresa May gave a stern and inspirational response to the latest Islamic terror attack in London this weekend, declaring at one point that “enough is enough.” When I wrote about it yesterday I was pondering precisely how far she would be willing to go in pursuit of those who would destroy the west, particularly when she mentioned how the Islamic fighters have too much freedom on the internet and in their own communities. It’s not that I imagine her as being afraid of the jihadists… she doesn’t seem to be cowed at all. Rather, it’s her own people and the rest of the liberal community internationally who would likely be bringing the backlash if she took too firm of a hand.
As it turns out, that didn’t take long at all to happen. Her opponents were quick to break out the “authoritarian” label, with several complaining that she might be cracking down on internet privacy and invading the homes of people in the Muslim community. One Labour Party supporter accused her of “campaigning” from the podium when political campaigns were supposed to be suspended. There was one person who struck back in May’s defense, however. Jane Merrick, a columnist for The Independent across the pond, admits that it may have sounded a bit like campaigning, but reminds us that “politicizing” the terror attack was essentially unavoidable and that May was actually putting forward important new policies. (The Independent)
May’s new tough measures to tackle what she called a “new trend” in terrorism do amount to policies. She has called for greater resources for intelligence services and police, better regulation of the internet, calling on giants like Facebook and Twitter to do more to help, less tolerance of extremism within communities, and stiffer custodial sentences for would-be perpetrators. This is, indeed, quite the authoritarian policy platform.
But the criticism fails to recognise the reality of the situation. What was she supposed to do? People waking up on Sunday morning to yet another attack, the third in as many months, needed reassurance that something was being done – beyond the usual appeals for unity and resilience. As she herself said, things cannot simply return to normal.
It’s unfortunate that May’s opponents weren’t even waiting for all of the victims to be identified before going after her. But she’s also faced with the sort of opportunity which only arises in moments of crisis. She’s staked out the politically distasteful but completely realistic position of saying that what’s been done in the past simply isn’t working. Further, she’s offering actual solutions, even though they will ruffle socialist leaning feathers to no end.
Being in Great Britain, it’s important to remember that the government there has options which we don’t possess in America. Any demands to scrutinize or shut down the internet activity of people who are espousing jihadist philosophy here in the United States will be immediately met by lawsuits from the ACLU and rousing cries of how the government is “censoring” people’s opinions. And just imagine what would happen if any American leader suggested that we should be spending more time covertly investigating what’s going on in mosques around the country in an effort to find those who are funding terror groups or preaching violence against the Great Satan. Oh, wait… you don’t have to imagine it.
In 2012, when the New York Police Department was conducting surveillance and other intelligence gathering practices in area mosques looking for terror network connections, a group of activists sued to force them to stop. And they won. Last year we learned (far too late after the fact) that the Department of Homeland Security had been investigating the mosques and community groups frequented by the perpetrators of the San Bernardino attacks, but that line of of inquiry was halted and the data they collected destroyed because it was feared that they would be accused of profiling. So, no… we don’t have to imagine at all.
This might be an opportunity to watch how Great Britain handles this going forward and see if they produce any repeatable results. If so, it may be time for a long overdue, though highly uncomfortable conversation here in America as to how we can be more proactive rather than being reactive. The other option is for everyone in the west to simply get used to the idea of mopping up after increasingly common terror attacks using bombs, guns, motor vehicles, knives or kitchen sinks. They’re always going to come up with something.