June 19, 2017

TSC IntelBrief: Another Attack in London

One of the unacknowledged victims of recent terror attacks in London and Manchester is the sense of latent community that exists in multicultural environments.

• On June 18, a man drove a van into a crowd outside a London mosque, the latest in a string of recent attacks in the UK.

• Initial reports suggest the attack, which killed one person and injured at least 10, was anti-Muslim in nature.

• Attacks and reprisal attacks are a hallmark of groups such as the Islamic State, causing neighbors to fear and hate each other.

• Government and community leaders across the West must ensure that inclusive efforts premised on unity and outreach across religious and ethnic lines are equally, if not more, relentless than the efforts of those trying to tear societies apart.

One of the unacknowledged victims of recent terror attacks in London and Manchester is the sense of latent community that exists in multicultural environments. In London and elsewhere in the UK, terrorism and hate crimes have historically been rare. Yet there has been a spike in both terrorism—the Westminster Bridge attack in March, the Manchester bombing in May, and London Bridge attack in June—and hate crimes in the aftermath. Though each of the terror attacks the UK has witnessed were committed by individuals, the blame has largely been cast on entire communities, ethnicities, and religions. Once a pattern of attack followed by reprisal based on ethnicity or religion takes root at any meaningful level, the consequences for government and society are severe.

On June 18, a man drove a van into a crowd of people outside a mosque in London. Initial reports indicate that one person was killed and 10 were injured in the attack, though it is unclear if the death was caused by the attack or a medical issue just before the incident. What is more clear, however, is that the incident was yet another terror attack in the UK, with the same goal of terrorizing a community. According to witnesses, the driver—who was detained by the crowd—shouted that he wanted to kill Muslims. The British government is treating the incident as a terror attack.

There is a real concern that periodic terror attacks will fully divide communities that are already under stress. The goals of groups like the so-called Islamic State—to generate fear, division, hate, and violence—are also the goals of white supremacist groups. Such groups espouse the same basic ‘us versus them’ violent rhetoric; they differ only in their flags. In Iraq, groups like the Islamic State exploited divisions in communities in order to gain a foothold and then total power in some areas. Terror attacks in Iraq would lead to reprisal attacks in an escalating pattern that has persisted for well over a decade at varying levels. Targeted murders led to revenge murders and then to the wholesale killing of people based on warped but powerful sectarian or ideological arguments. As the violence increased, the nuance of rhetoric decreased, and in the end it became a campaign of dehumanization and persecution. 

The situation in London and elsewhere in the West is nowhere near that level of divisiveness. A responsive and effective government—along with the absence of a foreign military invasion and resulting civil war—that protects all citizens is the most important factor in determining how long the cycle of attack and reprisal continues. Yet it is within separate sub-communities—which form the overall larger community of a city—that the power to determine how deep the cycle of attack and reprisal will be. Once communities tolerate blaming a collective group for acts of individual madness, the situation has decayed to an extent that reversing the path is very difficult—such divisions tend to last for years. Fortunately, in the UK and elsewhere in the West, the vast majority of community and government leaders understand the gravity of the situation, as well as the need for public outreach and unity that is equal in its relentlessness as the efforts of those seeking to tear societies apart.



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