Column: Learning From A Terror Attack
By Ashutosh Mishra
London: Struggling to recover from the trauma of last Friday’s killings by a convicted terrorist who had been released from prison this city will seek to build new defences to ward off such incidents in future. The lessons learnt from the bloody rampage that ended with its perpetrator, Usman Khan being shot dead by police on the London Bridge, is expected to come in handy in chalking out a future counter-terrorism strategy.
In fact, police’s response on Friday was helped by the security improvements made after the terrorist attacks on London Bridge and Westminster Bridge in 2017. Protective barriers between the pavements and the road on London Bridge had been installed to stop vehicles ramming into pedestrians. This allowed police officers to deal with Khan without the fear of being hit by accomplices driving in the area.
Such precautions are important but now much more needs to be done in the light of the fresh attack which was different from others in the sense that Khan was a convicted terrorist who, before and after his release from prison in 2018, had taken courses to “desist” and “disengage” from radical ideologies. But the two people he killed were advocates of such programs. In fact, all three were attending a conference on prisoner rehabilitation.
Significantly, the attack came in the midst of a crucial election campaign that may decide Britain’s future as far as its relationship with the European Union (EU) is concerned. But many people, who had been fixated on Brexit so far, are now taking a break from it to ponder if such rehabilitation programs actually change extremist offenders.
Following the stabbings and the subsequent shooting of Khan by the police, the Justice Ministry has launched an urgent review of conditions for releasing people sentenced for terror offences. According to reports Prime Minister Boris Johnson has pledged to introduce a mandatory minimum 14-year sentence for such crimes. Khan had served only six years of an 18-year sentence for an amateurish plot to bomb the London Stock Exchange. He apparently feigned to have turned his back on radical Islam.
At the other end of the terrorism, debate are people like Pen Mendonça, an independent graphic facilitator and an associate lecturer at the London College of Communication who was present at the Fishmongers’ Hall where the attack took place. Writing in a prominent newspaper in the wake the attack he sought to highlight issues like poverty, inequality and exclusion as they bred crime. He referred to conversations among people who “ understand that extremism thrives where communities are struggling and that people are targeted because they are vulnerable and isolated.”
Mendonça opines that for tackling terrorism and hateful extremism Britain needs secure, long-term funding for things like social care, youth work, probation, diversion schemes and mental health services. “It strikes me that the risk of not doing the kind of work that brings us together to learn, and to influence change, dramatically outweighs the risks associated with undertaking it,” he concludes. May be has a point.
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