The loop has become familiar to us all. A terrorist atrocity takes place. Images of dead men women and children spread across social media like wildfire. The appeal to stay calm rings out. The facts slowly become apparent. There are worries of a backlash before the names of the dead are even known. There is a vigil, we sing songs. We wait. We wait a little longer, hoping perhaps the madness will cease. It doesn’t. Then the loop kicks in again.
What is most striking about this gruesome process is the shallowness of the debate that surrounds it. Having attended the scenes of multiple terror attacks in the UK the media now seems to have settled into a groove. That is not to say any of the reporters show callousness or a lack of investigative integrity, but rather that the boundaries of interaction have been set long before the sad but familiar news reaches the public. Almost all commentators have to first go through the process of affirming their virtuousness before any interview begins. It might be helpful if the BBC or Sky just handed out stickers saying “NOT A RACIST” or “Not all Muslims” that could then be slapped on the chest of those interviewed just to save us some time. The next step is a cosy chat about how we can’t let this divide us, which is fine yet ultimately facile if we don’t honestly evaluate the force that is destroying our cultural fabric and society. It becomes the desperate attempt of a zombie nation to avert its eyes, one that has become acclimatised to terror and finds it easier to look away. The debate then descends into various platitudes of nothing to do with Islam, its all to do with Islam, its a failure of our society, we are to blame, we are not to blame. Yet ultimately we remain obsessed with how we see the world and how the world revolves around us, when in truth it more often than not doesn’t.
To say this is nothing to do with Islam is just as stupid as saying it is everything to do with Islam. So why is it that we so rarely hear conversations on our TV screens or from our politicians that actually delve into the detail of the intellectual foundations of groups like ISIS? How often do we hear the nuance of Salafism explained and contrasted with more mainstream interpretations of Islam? For it is in these differences we can truly identify our enemy and chart a course forward. Indeed islamist extremists are not shy about their motives or articulating the religious justification for them. Yet we as a society are far more comfortable looking at the errors of western governments in the middle east and how that has exacerbated the situation. Of course we are absolutely right to do so and should always consider the positive and negative impact of our policies abroad. However to suggest that this provides a full picture of the menace we now face is either naive at best or pernicious at worst.
For example to undertake a historical analysis of Nazism and only consider the legacy of imperialism and the Treaty of Versailles and then claim from that a full understanding of it as an ideology would be profoundly foolish. We would need to delve far deeper and consider factors such as the influence of Prussian militarism, the reassertion of romanticism over reason, the merging of esoteric notions of the aryan race with a perversion of Darwin’s principals that saw their ultimate manifestation in the Nazi death camps. We would also have to analyse the key role played by the the notion of the “Jew” as a problem, a virus infecting German stock, a pollutant, purveyors of perverted science, a conspiratorial force that has tentacles everywhere that must be stopped. Hence the “Jew” wasn’t only a target but rather provided Nazism with its beating heart its very reason for being. Combine this with the beliefs of individuals such as Himmler who’s flights of fantasy sent the Arnenabeau around the world looking for Atlantis, the spear of destiny and ultimately a lost mythical master race and a very complicated picture emerges. A picture of a twisted ideology that has its own internal driving logic and force that burns like a raging fire despite what the rest of the world does. Put bluntly some ideas are bad on their own merits and ideas have the power to move minds.
Yet somehow despite the dead children blasted around the halls of the Manchester Arena, despite British soldiers being beheaded in broad daylight, despite the dead policeman laying murdered in the shadow of our own Parliament, despite the individuals cut to shreds on a night out in Borough Market, we still refuse to look our enemy in the eye and see its true nature. Perhaps its just too confusing for a culture that believed it had won these wars long ago. Indeed when the Berlin Wall fell and history had come to an “end” the idea that the world would soon be faced by a virulent suicide bombing theocratic fascism would have been dismissed as the rantings of a mad man. Or perhaps a paranoid bigoted racist.
Its mush easier to just label these terrorists as mad and bad. A bunch of sick lunatics running around killing because they enjoy it in the same way a serial killer might. It stops our politicians having to confront the most profound questions of our age and instead they jump on the loop. A loop that has become a perverted and twisted merry go round that few have the will or bravery to get off. The danger of course is that someone from outside our cosy political consensus may seize this issue by the throat and run with it. The notion that all cultures are roughly as good as one another and a coming together will see us all adjust in a peaceful manner has been thrown into doubt. The glories of a borderless Europe that we have all enjoyed now seem vulnerable to both terror and mass migration we have little control over or understand. The European Union has always been an organisation with shallow democratic roots, but while things where going well the citizens of Europe were happy to go along. Now as profound problems emerge the critical eye of the European peoples has turned its gaze towards the EU and many don’t like what they see or the position they have found themselves in. As is often the case the future of the EU will likely be determined by economics, if prosperity remerges across the continent most will once again go along. Yet as the EU prepares to plough forward with even greater levels of integration and political union the countries of Europe will be faced with some very stark choices, at the heart of those choices will be the black mark of terror. In turn this will colour any debates regarding immigration, freedom of movement and economic policy.
Simply put the EU and its members may be on a very direct collision course the fallout of which will be felt for decades. Whatever one may feel about Brexit it shows that all is not well and the EU would be sensible to heed such a warning. Combine this with significantly increased votes for La Penn, Wilders and most recently the Alternative For Germany and it becomes clear that Europe isn’t in a mood to just go along anymore. Indeed Angela Merkel is learning very quickly that unilateral decisions on immigration do not come without a political cost. Thus as the far left and far right stir and become more confident, Europe could find that there are more monsters amongst us than we ever imagined. Sadly it seems as the Berlin Wall fell so did our guard and with it the intellectual capacity to confront those that wish to destroy us both internally and externally. If this doesn’t change we can expect years more carnage and ever deepening divisions.