“We will not be cowed”, declared Sadiq Khan in the aftermath of the Westminster attack.
This was, perhaps, the defiant response Londoners needed to hear – to recalibrate the senses and strengthen our resolve. Resisting the temptation to let the blood boil, anger mount, and fury fly forth – Khan offered a sober, stony-faced call for unity. It was a touching moment.
Since then, ink reserves have been near-exhausted by the acres of newspaper content devoted to the attacks. Could police and intelligence services have prevented them? Are the defences at the Palace of Westminster proportionate to the terror threat? Should the Muslim community work harder at rooting out radicalisation?
I don’t intend to provide solutions to any of these problems. I am not a Police Officer, security expert, or scholar on Islam. I have no particular insight into these attacks, and am as ill-informed as anyone. But, like everyone else, I have an opinion on what ought to be done next.
Sadiq Khan’s response was perfectly pitched. The reality is that there will always be individuals hell-bent on causing us harm, and tools which enable this will continue to be readily available. Nobody would contemplate banning cars or knives from sale, and any form of restriction is clearly impractical. From all my experience, Islam is a religion of peace – and perverted justifications for personal bloodlust can take any shape. Demonisation, hostility, and knee-jerk reactions are unhelpful.
Yet this doesn’t feel enough.
Staying strong and resilient in the face of terror is possibly a necessary state of mind, but is hardly an active policy. What could cities across the UK practically be doing to lower the threat? In other words, is Sadiq Khan’s plan enough?
Perhaps there is scope for us to better fund our police force. Maybe it would be worth teaching critical thinking in schools so that people are less swayed by the promise of radicalism. It could be worth redoubling our efforts to develop driver-less cars, to take one weapon out of the armoury of those who try to harm us. These might be practical policies, but I’m not sure they would give confidence to tourists uncertain about whether the UK is safe to visit, or to the single mum walking home from work in Westminster.
That’s why Sadiq Khan’s words were so important. They weren’t a statement of policy, but a prescription for a mindset. “We will not be cowed”. It may not be much, but it’s all we’ve got.
Written By: Matt Allen