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December 2, 2019

The London attack


December 2, 2019

After another knife-wielding terrorist attack on British soil, the debate for the coming UK election has moved to the issue of terrorism. What has been more alarming is that Usman Khan, the attacker, had been on parole after serving a sentence for hatching a terrorist plot six years ago. He was released after he was considered to be on the path to recovery and had been attending a convention for ex-convicts in London, when he began the attack near London Bridge. In the original conviction, Khan was considered to be a serious threat and put in jail with the condition of never to be released, but this changed after an appeal against the original sentence. Despite being freed, Khan was tagged with an electronic chip and remained under surveillance. All the signs pointed to the UK justice system working, which is why Khan’s knife attacking wearing a fake suicide jacket has come as a surprise. It would appear that he was no longer in touch with any UK-based terrorist cell, but retained his ideological convictions.

While the original plot he was sentenced on was to blow up the London Stock Exchange, it was clear at that point too that none of the Al Qaeda-inspired group of nine had any knowledge of how to do so. The plan was a fanciful one: of going to his Kashmiri home to set up a training camp. The judgment on the appeal made it clear that ‘talk about bombing public houses in Stoke was no more than angry talk between four men responding to racist incidents.’ This would suggest this is a story of the tragic direction which race politics has taken in the UK, where minorities no longer see collective protest as the solution to racism and the UK’s own role in global conflicts.

With the UK election on the cards, there have been two clear divisions on the attack. The Conservative Party, which has been in power, has used the incident to ask for a more hostile environment – even though critics have continued to insist it is the hostile environment that has created this situation in the first place. British PM Boris Johnson raised the alarm about 29 convicted terrorists being allowed back on the streets. In opposition, the message from the Labour Party has been: pull the UK out of international wars and then create a peace and conflict prevention fund. Its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has cited that fact that Britain has toed the American line on a number of international wars, especially Iraq, as a critical factor for producing such an environment. The British public now faces a choice: listen to the kind of vitriol that has fuelled terrorism in the first place or listen to a voice of reason. Terrorism can only be curbed if its causes are addressed. This is the lesson that the UK needs to follow.

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