Even the arrests after each attack give comfort to the enemy, which can act with impunity even if known.
The only man I ever met whose ambition was to be a suicide bomber was an inmate at the British prison where I worked as a doctor in the 1990s and 2000s. He was a career criminal of very nasty propensities whose father was Arab and mother English. He had reached his 30s, the age at which criminals usually turn away from crime in favor of something better—in his case the killing of as many infidels as possible, along with himself.
Coming to religion is one reason, or pretext, for abandoning crime. In the prison there was much more Islamic evangelism than Christian. I would find Qurans and Islamic pamphlets in drawers, insinuated there by I knew not whom, but never Bibles or Christian pamphlets.
I interpreted religion as the means prisoners used to rationalize giving up common crime while at the same time not feeling defeated by, or having surrendered to, the society around them—for they knew conversion to Islam gave that society the shudders.
The problem for the security services, however, is that there is no invariable profile, social or psychological, of the Muslim terrorist. Nor is there a kind of economic lever that can be pulled so that, with better material prospects, young Muslims will be less attracted to terrorism. There have, it is true, been no-hopers among the terrorists, but there have also been medical students and doctors. There was nothing (except himself) impeding the recent Manchester bomber from having a normal or even a highly successful career. As Prime Minister Theresa May rightly said after the most recent atrocities in London, what the terrorists have in common is an ideology. She rightly called it evil, but it is also stupid: It makes the Baader-Meinhof Gang look like Aristotle.
An ideology, however stupid, is not easy to destroy; believing six impossible things before breakfast is almost par for the human course. One obvious thing to do would be to strangle the foreign funding of so much Islamist activity in Britain. That is no doubt complicated in many ways, but no British government, solicitous of trade relations, has dared even try. The British economy is precarious, and it is difficult to be strong when your economy is weak.
Instead, we have gone in for what a Dutch friend of mine calls “creative appeasement.” Authorities make concessions even before, one suspects, there have been any demands for them. Thus, a public library in Birmingham, one of the largest known to me, has installed women-only tables, a euphemism for Muslim women only. Whether there was ever a request or demand for sex-segregated seating from Muslims is probably undiscoverable; truth seldom emerges from a public authority. But the justification would almost certainly be that without such tables, Muslim women would not be able to use the library at all.
The Birmingham airport has set aside a room for wudu, the Muslim ablutions before prayer. No other religion is catered for in this fashion (nor should they be, in my opinion), so the impression is inevitably given that Islam is in some way favored or privileged. Again, it would be difficult to find out whether they received requests or demands for such a room or merely anticipated them; in either case, weakness is advertised.
This is not a local problem alone. Many European airports now set aside a room for “meditation.” The icon used to indicate it almost always carries more of an Islamic connotation than any other. A friend told me that when she went into one such room, she was told by a Muslim to remove her shoes, ecumenism being, of course, a one-way street.
My female Muslim patients who had grown up in Britain told me that the school inspectors had never intervened when their parents prevented them from attending school, often for years. On the other hand, white working-class parents were bullied by those inspectors when their refractory 15-year-old daughters refused to go. A few years ago it came to light that police in Rotherham had for decades systematically turned a blind eye to the mass sexual abuse of children—at least 1,400 victims—by Muslim men. This type of willful neglect by the authorities came as no surprise to me. On the contrary, it is precisely what I would have expected.
From all this the terrorists surely draw a great deal of comfort. It gives them the impression of living in a weak society that will be easy to destroy, so that their acts are not in the least nihilistic or pointless, as is often claimed. They perceive ours as a candle-and-teddy-bear society (albeit mysteriously endowed with technological prowess): We kill, you light candles. The other day I passed a teddy-bear shop, that is to say a shop that sold nothing but teddy bears. I am sure that terrorism is good for business, but the teddy bears are more reassuring for the terrorists than for those who buy them to place on the site of the latest outrage.
Another source of comfort for terrorists is that after every new atrocity, the police are able to arrest multiple suspected accomplices. That suggests the police knew the attackers’ identities in advance but did nothing—in other words, that most of the time terrorists can act with impunity even if known. Here, then, is further evidence of a society that will not defend itself seriously. This is not just a British problem. The April murder of a policeman on the Champs Elysées in Paris was committed by a man who had already tried to kill three policemen, who was known to have become fanaticized, and who was found with vicious weapons in his home. The authorities waited patiently until he struck.
Theodore Dalrymple is the pen name of Anthony Daniels, a British physician.